NEW YORK — Tangled up with Derek Dorsett, Mike Green went down in the corner of the ice. When Green got up, Dorsett was on his knees, and the Washington Capitals defenseman cross-checked him in full view of officials.
Goaltender Braden Holtby accused the New York Rangers forward of a “dirty slew foot,” but it was Green who went to the penalty box for retaliating. Even as Holtby called the penalty discrepancy in Sunday’s 1-0 Game 6 loss “lopsided,” it’s clear that in committing 28 minors this series, a lack of discipline is killing the Caps.
“We took penalties. We deserved some, we didn’t deserve some,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “That’s how the series has kind of gone on. We’re not helping ourselves, either. We take untimely penalties.”
That’s a troublesome trend that cannot continue, or the Caps will find themselves out of the playoffs, whether it’s Monday after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series or soon after.
“Obviously you’ve got to stay out of the box in the playoffs,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “You can’t take as many as we did today.”
Against a team with a more functional power play, Washington would already be done. The Rangers are 2 for 26 with the man advantage (including 0 for 3 when up five-on-three) through six games.
That’s a testament to the Caps’ penalty kill and a concern for the Rangers, who are paying Rick Nash, Brad Richards and other star offensive players a lot of money to put the puck in the net.
Defenseman Karl Alzner called the penalty kill “the only reason why we’ve been able to stick around” the past few games.
“It’s holding us in this series,” Holtby said.
But seven penalties (counting roughing calls on Brouwer and John Carlson at game’s end) also showed the Caps are failing at something they’ve emphasized in recent weeks and that killed them early in the regular season.
Five before the final horn Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden didn’t directly contribute to the loss, as the Rangers couldn’t capitalize, but the flurry took Washington out of its flow and gave the restless crowd plenty to yell about. Captain Alex Ovechkin and center Mike Ribeiro can’t get on the ice, let alone produce, when the Caps are constantly killing penalties.
“It’s very difficult,” coach Adam Oates said. “The guys that we use to kill, the trickle-down minutes affect other guys. Some guys sit on the bench, don’t kill penalties. It makes it hard for them to get into their game.”
In Game 6, the Caps took penalties in the ways they’ve learned all too well they can’t. Defenseman Jack Hillen retaliated against Rangers captain Ryan Callahan in front of the benches and, predictably, went to the box.
Less than six minutes later, Alzner lifted the puck over the glass for a delay of game. “I hate that call just as much as anybody,” Alzner said recently. But, like it or not, it’s in the rule book.